Did Humans Flourish Before Modernity?

I hear more doom and gloom assessments that trace our cultural degradation to either to the overreach of the federal government or the egotistical bombast of Donald Trump. Many of these critiques seem to assume modernity (a term that includes everything from pluralism and democracy to capitalism and technology) has produced a set an unprecedented state of affairs that provide no check on human wickedness and offer no protection for the virtuous from the vicious. Today’s roundup:

Too much gubmint:

We must not mistake the sincere agony and lonely battles of the individuals we pastor as they seek to pursue godliness with the political culture that now reigns supreme. The latter seeks nothing less than total and thoroughgoing conformity to its amorality as a price for membership of civil society, no exceptions allowed. We cannot be sentimental about the ideology even as we must have compassion with those who fight their temptations every day. We must also be aware of how fast the law could be changing. In a week when a CNN poll indicated a majority of Americans opposed to the North Carolina ‘bathroom bill,’ we cannot assume that the plausibility framework for legal decisions will be remotely sympathetic to what – to quote Tony Esolen on the same point for the second time this week – ‘everybody believed the day before yesterday.’

Too much Trump:

But previous election cycles gave Catholic voters a prudential choice between candidates who embodied at least some of the major themes of the social doctrine. What is the thoughtful Catholic voter to do when neither of the presidential candidates is even minimally committed to human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity, as the social doctrine understands those concepts? When one party has elevated lifestyle libertinism to the first of constitutional principles (and is prepared to kill unborn children, jettison free speech, and traduce religious freedom in service to hedonism), while the other is prepared to nominate a fantasist who spun grotesque fairy tales about an alleged connection between an opponent’s family and Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before he closed the deal?

That will be a question to ponder carefully in the next six months. The immediate take-away that the American democratic experiment is in deep trouble—and that trouble has something to do with moral judgment.

The perfect storm of Trump and Target:

We are living in a new country. There’s a completely implausible op-ed piece on Ethika Politika today, blaming the Benedict Option for giving us Trump. The idea is that when orthodox Christians vacate the public square, people like Trump triumph. But there’s no evidence that American Christians have by and large vacated the public square. Most churchgoing Christians who are Republican voted for other candidates in the primaries; Trump’s victory showed how little power religious and social conservatives have now. No, most Christians have not left the public square; the public square has left them, so to speak.

That is, Trump is part of what it means to be in a post-Christian nation (and so, by the way, is Hillary, with the platform she’s running on). It is simply an illusion that traditional Christians are a silent majority in this country, and that if we only wake up, we can put matters aright.

So why is it that God was so upset with either humanity or his own people that well before the rise of telephones and open primaries he sent down massive punishments against sin and disobedience? Think of the generation that did not survive the flood:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 ESV)

Or what about Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah?

Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’ (Jeremiah 19:4-9 ESV)


Shouldn’t Christians who are supposed to be Bible readers act like they’ve seen a wicked world before? Such a recognition doesn’t mean doing nothing. But it should mean not being more outraged than God that humans are fallen.